This War of Mine Analysis
Context means everything.
This War of Mine is a 2D side-scrolling survival game about the horrors of war through the eyes of civilians. Although This War of Mine has gamist mechanics and reward structures, the game is heavily narrativist. This is because while there is a way to ‘win’ and to earn rewards, if the player has no interest in the narrative of the game, they will not understand and appreciate the meaning of the game, and therefore, the game will be much easier. If players don’t care about the narrative, they can kill, steal, and do whatever is necessary to win and survive without a second thought. However, if you are a heavy narrativist player, you would be emotionally invested while playing the game and may feel differently about the moral choices in the game. This player will think twice about hurting others for the cost of survival.
The heuristics of the game is different based on whether you are playing the game as a narrativist or a gamist. Long term heuristics for both the gamist and the narrativist is to survive until the ceasefire with as many survivors as you can. The short term heuristics for the narrativist is to gather supplies and food while keeping killing and stealing to a minimum. Other short term heuristics include making sure the survivors don’t get hungry, sick, sad, or tired. The short term heuristics for the gamist is to gather supplies and food no matter what you do. The reason for the difference is that the feedback from these actions provide context to the characters. If you kill or steal, you end someone’s life who were the same as you, just trying to survive day by day until the ceasefire. If you are just playing the game for the gamist structures, the player will not care as this feedback is purely narrativist and has no effect on gameplay. If you do not care who starves, lives, dies, or is stolen from, the game is easier and less emotionally taxing to the player.
Being that This War of Mine is a war game, the game has different engagement than other war games. The critical reason for this is that most war games are shooters where you play the life of a soldier. However, This War of Mine focuses on a group of civilians as they work together to try and survive the war through gathering and managing supplies and food. Therefore, engagement ups include surviving a night, having enough supplies to build something you need, dangerous encounters between characters and survivors, when a character dies, or the tension of attempting to find or build supplies to stop a character from dying. Engagement downs are when waiting for night to arrive, searching an area for supplies, digging, and trading.
Signifiers in This War of Mine include icons on the screen. The player is signified to approach this icon and click the use button to do whatever the icon is signifier. The icon has a small graphic to indicate to the player what it is signifying, such as search the area, peek through or open a door, cook food, store items, inventory manage, trade, and more. Another type of signifier is when a character is being aggressive. They will typically say something then pull out a knife, a gun, or hold up their fists. This signifies they are about to fight you and affords the player to prepare for this encounter or run away. More signifiers is when a character needs something. The character says they need something or are sick or hungry or need sleep. This then signifies to the player that they should take actions to make the character happy. If what the character asks for is non life threatening, then a gamist typically would not care. They would also not care if a character is sad or tired and will take little to no steps to fix it.
The game signifies what a character wants by creating character sheets and using character dialogue. If a character wants something, they will typically say it through dialogue boxes like, “I wish I had some cigarettes” or “I’m hungry”. This signifies that you should give them what they want. However, for the gamist, this is not a priority. In addition, each character has a character sheet that states what the character is thinking and if they are hungry, sick, tired, sad, or more. The player can use this data to give the characters what they want or use the data to prepare for the next night so that they can go to get the supplies they need to make sure the survivors stay alive. They can also use the character sheet to read their thoughts and go deeper in the narrative. Reward structures in This War of Mine are mainly narrativist rewards. These include having survivors after a night, surviving until the ceasefire, and survivors not dying.
There are several other games who have a strictly narrativist structure like Heavy Rain or Life Is Strange. However, the way that This War of Mine differs is that the game still has gamist elements in it. Unlike Life Is Strange, a player can actually ‘win’ This War of Mine. This War of Mine uses gamist structures to support the narrativist play style and does it well. This War of Mine uses simplistic side-scrolling gameplay to bring across the message about the horror of war and survival. Will you survive fairly easy by killing and stealing your way through the game, destroying many lives in the name of survival? Or will you be a good person and barely get by, and maybe even die? This game would not have the same effect in a non-interactive medium because the nature of interactivity makes you feel responsible for your actions. Like games similar to Papers, Please, This War of Mine uses simplistic story elements to make it very hard to be a good person by giving the player context of what they are doing, making the player’s conscious the barrier to playing the game successfully.